Today’s news:

Electeds angry at Con Ed over highest rates in U.S.

Western Queens elected officials said they were outraged after a U.S. Labor Department study found that city residents pay the highest electricity and natural gas rates in the nation following Con Edison’s recent proposal to raise customer bills next year.

The study found that residents of the five boroughs pay 59.1 percent more for electricity than the rest of the country and 34.2 percent more for natural gas. In June, a kilowatt-hour of electricity cost New Yorkers 21 cents, while nationwide prices averaged 13 cents. In addition, city residents paid $1.42 per therm, which is used to measure natural gas, last month while the national average was $1.06 per therm.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said borough residents suffer from high utility bills and he criticized Con Edison’s decision to propose rate increases for next year.

“What do we get in return for the grossly inflated rates we pay this monopolyi” he said. “Nine-day blackouts, exploding manhole covers and the risk of stray voltage dangers around the city. We deserve more when we are forced to pay the highest electricity and natural gas rates in the country.”

The councilman and other borough officials have long lambasted the utility following its handling of the 10-day western Queens blackout in 2006, which left an estimated 174,000 residents in the dark. Con Ed also came under fire in April after a gas leak explosion in Floral Park killed a 40-year-old mother of three, Ghanwattie Boodram.

In a statement, the utility defended its service to city residents.

“Safety is Con Edison’s No. 1 priority and while there is potential danger in delivering electricity, the men and women of Con Edison strive to deliver it safely,” the utility said.

Con Ed spokeswoman D. Joy Faber said the utility services 3.2 million customers in the five boroughs and Westchester County, including 739,000 in Queens. But residents can choose from a total 38 energy providers in those areas.

Faber said city residents pay the nation’s steepest bills due to the high cost of fuel and taxes.

In May, the utility proposed two plans to raise rates in 2010. The first would increase rates by $695 million annually for three years, raising bills for residential customers by as much as 7.8 percent, or $6.48, and for businesses by as much as 4.8 percent, or $751.

The alternate plan would raise the total first-year rates by $854 million with projected increases of $462 million and $391 million during the following two years. Under this proposal, residential customers could pay as much as 9.6 percent, or $8, more in fees and businesses might have to fork over as much as 6 percent, or $942, more.

A Con Ed spokesman said the increase would go toward real property taxes, additions to utility plants, increases in pensions and a return on equity.

The Long Island Lighting Co. also serves part of Queens.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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